Elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are provided with a book of instructions on how to handle certain matters within the congregation, especially “judicial matters,” meaning sins that may warrant their counsel. This book also instructs them on the appointment of new elders, what to do in case of a natural disaster, and so on.
Called “Shepherd the Flock of God,” the book is super-secret and for the eyes of the elders only. However, I have a copy myself; this is the age of the internet, nothing is secret. Consider the most surprising information inside, some of which I’ve already discussed in other posts.
1. Elders can cover their own serious sins.
You can read about this in this post. Elders who committed serious sins “a few years ago,” as long as they have some vague sign of “god’s blessing” can continue to be elders with no sanctions.
2. Married women have no rights to confidentiality, but elders cannot reveal details when a man has committed adultery.
Read about this in this post. Elders are instructed to preserve the “confidentiality” of cheating men, whereas married women are not allowed to even meet with the elders without their husbands present.
3. You can’t trust your family to even be near the book.
Note part of a letter that announced this new version of the book:
We would like to emphasize the importance of keeping these new textbooks secured and confidential… The textbooks should not be left on tops of desks or in other places where they are easily accessible by family members or other individuals… other individuals should not have any opportunity to read the information.
So it’s not enough to simply tell your family that it’s confidential; you need to avoid leaving it where it may be “easily accessible.” Don’t even give anyone the “opportunity” to read the information, as their promise to leave it alone means nothing, and trust is nonexistent in a Christian household.
4. Women and non-JWs shouldn’t even touch the book, and men who aren’t elders need to be watched when they handle the book.
This information was sent to elders after the release of the book:
Since the release of the new Shepherding textbook, several elders have asked about the possibility of having their textbook spiral bound… If he has another baptized brother who is not an elder do the work for him, the elder must watch while the work is being done. Outside companies, unbelievers, or sisters are not permitted to do this work. The material in the book is confidential, and confidentiality must be preserved.
Remember that these women, the men who aren’t elders, and the families mentioned above are also Jehovah’s Witnesses, and were all provided the same bible as everyone else. Nowhere in the bible does it say that only elders or ones with oversight in the congregation should have special information that is not given to others.
However, for some reason a book written by imperfect men is kept secret from everyone in the congregation. If god thought his word was good enough for every lowly member of the congregation, why wouldn’t the words of men be good enough for everyone to see as well?
5. The entire process of appealing a disfellowshipping is kept hidden from accused persons.
A person is disfellowshipped (excommunicated) when they commit what is considered a serious sin, and after a judicial committee of at least three elders meets with this person, and determines that he or she does not appear to be repentant. This disfellowshipping is no light matter; it involves a severe form of shunning, even from a person’s own family members.
When it’s decided that someone should be disfellowshipped, they can appeal. They then meet with a new committee of men from a nearby congregation, who will review their case. If this new committee decides that the disfellowshipping decision stands, the book says:
When the disfellowshipping is upheld, there is no further arrangement for appeal. However, if an individual persists in believing a serious error in judgment has occurred, the appeal committee should inform him that he may submit his allegations in writing to the appeal committee within seven days for transmittal to the branch office. The appeal committee should not mention this provision unless the individual indicates that he believes a serious error in judgment has occurred.
A branch office is a type of headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses that oversees hundreds of congregations. So, if this appeals committee agrees to the disfellowshipping, they don’t tell the person that they can contact the branch office unless that person indicates that they think there has been a mistake. A person in this situation may accept the decision of the committee simply because they assume their appeals are exhausted.
I would need to ask the purpose of keeping this option quiet; is the branch simply too busy to worry about these local matters? We’re talking about something that impacts a person’s entire life, and their relationship with the Christian congregation. What is more important than that?
6. A confession of wrongdoing is not always good enough.
In the section that covers evidence needed to establish wrongdoing:
Confession (admission of wrongdoing), either written or oral, may be accepted as conclusive proof without other corroborating evidence. (Josh. 7:19) There must be two witnesses to a confession, and the confession must be clear and unambiguous. For example, a statement from a married Christian that his mate is “Scripturally free” would not by itself be viewed as a clear confession of adultery.
The book does say that a JW whose spouse has confessed to adultery may write a letter to the elders, explaining why they feel the confession is valid, but the elders need to still consider if they believe it to be genuine.
I will agree that some offhand, flippant statement is not always the same as a real confession, but saying that there must be two witnesses to an otherwise believable confession is outright ridiculous. I have also heard of cases where the elders have told women that their unfaithful husband’s verbal confession was not good enough, sometimes even after he’s left the home.
This begs the questions, What else do they need, and who are they to determine if a confession is sincere and genuine? If a woman (or man of course) says that a spouse confessed to adultery, I can understand wanting to call up the spouse and confirm this confession, but if the person doesn’t talk to them, what else is there?
The book does say that elders may leave it up to the innocent spouse to decide if the confession is enough, but again, there have been many cases where elders have made the decision themselves. The innocent mate is then left in a sort of marital limbo, as they are not free to remarry unless adultery has been proven.
7. Elders are told that they sit in judgement of others.
Page 9 of the book says:
“To be an effective elder, you must care for Jehovah’s precious sheep in the same way that he does—with loving-kindness, impartiality, and merciful judgment.”
I realize that elders may need to sometimes judge situations or circumstances that arise, and determine if someone may deserve disfellowshipping or shunning, but they are in no position to judge people themselves. The paragraph right before this says plainly that elders “cannot read the hearts,” which means they cannot properly judge anyone.
Outside attitudes and actions are not always a good indication of what is in someone’s heart, and elders are imperfect and often prone to self-righteousness, shortsightedness, misogyny, the love of power, and on the other side of the coin, downplaying certain sins or otherwise being too complacent. The bible, at John 5:22, also says that god has entrusted the judging to his son, not to local elders.
8. Prayers are not offered with disfellowshipped ones present.
When judicial committees meet and they determine that someone will be disfellowshipped, they excuse that person before saying a closing prayer among themselves. When a disfellowshipped person asks to be reinstated, the committee will say a prayer before that person arrives for their meeting. If they decide to reinstate the person, they can then say a prayer with that person present, after that decision has been made.
This is confounding. Disfellowshipped ones are not allowed to participate in religious services or preaching, but prayer? If the goal is to reestablish this person’s relationship with Jehovah, and bring him or her back into the fold, wouldn’t prayer be necessary and even advised?
The general thinking with JWs is that disfellowshipped ones have willfully turned their backs on god so they are, in essence, dead to him, but we’re again back to the point about judging someone. They’re not dead yet, so I would think elders especially would want to do everything possible to bring them back. The scriptures say to not greet such a person or eat with them, but this advice is so that their conduct doesn’t influence you; how can praying with them be damaging to the elders, the “spiritual shepherds”?
These are the 8 most confounding and even a bit shocking things I found in the book. When you think about how insulting these procedures are to women, the families of elders, and those who are disfellowshipped, and see how it gives special treatment to men and elders in the congregation, perhaps it’s no wonder that they prefer to keep it secret.
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